When it’s about a spousal relationship, we (particularly women) are conditioned to think that it’s either a loving relationship or a quiet adjustment. That it’s either a whirlwind of emotions or a dry battlefield of soul-scarring non-passion. It’s either working towards the same goals or just going along with the dominant partner’s goals. We don’t think of marriage as a grey zone or as music that will hit its high and low notes. And I think I’ve figured out a piece of why marriage has become so black and white to us.
You see it all started, in my opinion, when we started classifying marriages as “good” or “bad”.
And we all know that it doesn’t take a lot to be put in one box in a society which is run on adages and definitions. A boring, lackluster marriage is good, as long as the couple makes an appearance at all the social events.An abusive marriage is good as long as we don’t hear the screams and no one complains and the woman suffers. A financially tight marriage is good as long as the wife doesn’t mention glaring money problems to anyone. Getting crowned as having a good marriage is really easy.
Just like that, getting labeled as having a bad marriage is also very easy. Husband runs his plans by wife before a golfing weekend with friends? Bad marriage. Husband gets catered meal for a party instead of having his wife slave in the kitchen? Bad marriage. Husband defending wife in front of the world? Bad marriage. Wife asking for her right to separate accommodation? Bad marriage. Wife reluctant to meet in-laws? Bad marriage. It’s really easy to get branded here.
Sometimes, knowing someone as a couple gives the best insight into their relationship as a couple. The communal dynamic of their relationship can only be appreciated when we put it in comparison with our own and realize how we all practice marriage essentially the same, with the same tools, the same intention, and still may have different outcomes. And despite having very similar values, our marriages may look entirely different. So this is important to remove the instant “good” or “bad” judgement and help us accept marriage as a nuanced relationship.
Spouses don’t read a manual before getting married. We all do our best. None of us is doing better than our best. But sometimes our efforts work and sometimes, unfortunately, there is something that doesn’t quite click and becomes the final determinant of a relationship.
But I’d feel terrible if the thing that “didn’t quite click” was further highlighted by a comment or an observation I made. I’d feel terrible if I suspected any particular role of mine in the dissolution of my marriage.
I say I’d feel terrible but does that stop me from holding my tongue in the moment?
In Islam, creating discord in a couple, mentioning the faults of one spouse unnecessarily to the other or contributing to non-harmonious behavior in a couple are some of the most frowned upon acts and have a direct link to activities that would be carried out by people of questionable Eman. The sanctity of marriage and communal relationships is of utmost importance in Islam. Islam promotes matrimony and happy matrimony at that. Because Islam is a realistically constructed religion, it foresees that not all marriages are going to be happy. It therefore provides the option to divorce. It understands the dependence that gender roles have created for one gender on another and therefore lays down rules for alimony and childcare also.
But what Islam doesn’t allow is the function of outside forces in the dissolution of a marriage or its happiness.
Now let me direct this vague discussion of the nuances of good and bad marriages to the people who would benefit from this discussion, and some insight, the most. Yes parents of children! Please listen!
We love our children with all our heart. So it’s natural that we will be protective of them. It is also natural that we feel that our kids are not understood as well by others as they are by us. But we still let our kids go out, make friends, get jobs, face rejection, enjoy success, taste pride and deal with failure. Why? Because we want them to experience the world enough so that they won’t need us forever and when we aren’t anymore, they have a system in place that they can call their support.
Then why do we micromanage their marriage? Why do we not let them blossom in this closest of relationships, organically? Why do we not let them figure this relationship out on their own? Why do we interfere to the point of being intrusive? To the point of being the force that breaks their marriage? Or to the point of being the energy that never lets their marriage flourish?
Think about it! If our kid has a good relationship with their spouse, who’s winning here? Us.
If our kid has a spouse who has become dependable through the process of friendship and camaraderie, who’s benefitting here? Us.
If our kid has found the love of their life in their spouse, who can die peacefully, knowing our kid is in good hands? Us.
We directly benefit from our kid’s good marriage. We directly lose from our kid’s emotionally turbulent marriage.
And yes! We aren’t making all marriages discordant. Some people are incompatible and their incongruent personalities can’t find peace. Those marriages are probably going to end of their own volition. (But please don’t help the process).
Assuming that our child has a good or a bad marriage, based on the snapshot that we see at the dinner table or the breakfast table or during an argument with their spouse or during shopping or when the baby isn’t sleeping and both our child and their spouse is sleep-deprived is short-sighted, immature and frankly, dangerous behavior.
Assuming that we know all about our child’s marriage is idiotic. Did our parents or parents in-law know everything about our marriage? No! Marriage is an intricately woven fabric that couples use to cover aspects of their life as they see necessary. Not everything in a couple’s life is apparent to the naked eye. There are tears and laughter and sadness and trauma that a couple can only share with each other. Our intrusion makes this most precious bond murky. It creates doubt in spouses about each other. Over interference can lead to spouses thinking that the other is easily replaceable. We don’t win if our son or daughter thinks of us as the replacement of their spouse. We don’t win if we convince our child that right here, in us is all they need. Why? Let’s explore that.
We are not all that our child needs. Just as home wasn’t the only place our child needed. He needed the school, the bus, the playground, the park, the trip to Disney, the visits to grandparents to have an array of experiences and to develop an opinion and appreciation of life and choices.
As he continued to grow, he showed signs of developing independence. He started saying no to some activities that he previously enjoyed with us. He now preferred biking with his friends over coloring with us. He liked to have his friends over for his birthday rather than grandparents. He started making his own guest list.
As puberty hit, he showed more emancipation from our rules and expectations from him. He now has a temper. He is developing critical thinking. We are proud of his views on politics and social problems. We wonder how he learned about all of this. We marvel at the places he’ll go. He makes career choices. Later, he makes job choices. He dresses differently from us. While we never dressed so conservatively, he chooses to dress completely opposite from us. His personality is different and almost in contrast with our own.
And then he gets married. If you look at his developmental trajectory so far, it has been a straight, upward slope. He has only been getting more independent.
So for someone who has consistently been showing readiness to live an independent life and be on their own, why would he need our micromanagement of his marriage? Did we not think he could manage his marriage on his own? With the help of his spouse? Because if we didn’t think that they could make this work through mutual wisdom and consultation, we shouldn’t have agreed with him when he said he wanted to get married.
Our child is going to be okay with their spouse. The thinking that they’re sleeping with their enemy is stupid really and does nothing to strengthen our bond with our daughter-in-law or son-in-law. Young people, especially when they are entering a new role and relationship, are very perceptive. They can pick up on our subtle insults, unfeeling commentary and analysis of their personality. They become afraid of us initially. With time they become indifferent.
Don’t create a family of indifference. Create a family of emotion. Create a dynamic, an emotional dynamic. A dynamic where people can be open and even, dramatic.
Embracing our child and our child’s children isn’t complete until we embrace their spouse too. No family wants anyone to leave a family member out. How can our children accept us leaving their spouses out? How can our grandchildren accept that? I hope we don’t have any judgment for our in-laws relationship this Ramadan. This Ramadan we have to make a difference.